Today, I’m going to take a small break from reviewing traditional motion pictures, and for two reasons. One: There’s nothing coming out right now that I deem worth my time. Two: I was recommended by a friend to see this important documentary. Upon watching it, I agree that everybody, Christian or not, needs to see it. Now, I’m not going to cover the cinematic storytelling quality of American Gospel: Christ Alone, because analyzing what makes a documentary good or bad is not my expertise. What I’m going to do instead is discuss what it analyzes about the way most supposedly Christian preachers in the United States are talking about the Gospel, and more importantly, the lies they’re fooling nonbelievers into buying.
It starts with a harsh truth about most pastors these days: They’re more focused on Christianity than they are about Jesus. These false teachers talk about being a good person based on works and ignore the fact that it’s truly Jesus who justifies us and makes us more like Him. There’s an effective graphic that illustrates the way some religions such as Catholicism view it, where baptism immediately after birth cleanses your sins, and you must continually repent at the cathedral depending on the severity of your sin and remove them by works. You pray not only to the Lord Yahweh, but to statues of Mary, Saint Peter, John the Baptist, etc. But the true Good News of the Gospel is that once you commit your life living for Jesus, sin has been washed away spiritually once and for all. No matter how many times you stumble, Jesus already took your sins onto the cross, justifying you by declaring you righteous before Him, so that you will not be condemned to Hell. It’s an act of living by faith, not by works.
There’s another core component that not many other Christians address about how wrongly some misunderstand the Bible: making yourself the hero. Think of it this way, you know how when you play video games, the structure of the game is specifically designed to make you feel like you’re the main character? That’s exactly how it was in my many long hours playing Pokémon on the Gameboy—you have complete control over your avatar’s movements and name. Your character never speaks, leaving you to come up with mental dialogue on your own when talking to other players. It’s the same even with some books and movies such as Harry Potter or Twilight, the main character is specifically designed to have as little personality as possible so it’s easier to imagine yourself in their place and fantasize about a reality you wish you could have.
That type of thinking is so easy to do with the Bible—all these faceless people that feel written around a message. A montage of sermons by false teachers in this film show how they all have the same wrong idea about the story of David and Goliath, that you are David, Goliath is your problems, and you have the ability to stand up to those problems if you have enough willpower. But that’s idolatry, because you’re not David, nor are you the hero of your own story. This film reminds you that Jesus is the hero of your story, you’re just a side character. You got to have faith and let Him control what you do. That’s the whole point of David’s story against Goliath, not giving a motivational speech.
There were other things in this documentary that disturbed me quite a lot, one of them being the way some churches manipulate their members for more donations. They can do this by television ads, but it stretches beyond that to convey the lie that tithes heal physical needs. Going off that, many churches shown here are revealed to have false practices on how to heal others. Essentially, the highly energized pastor brings up somebody without any apparent physical ailments, who may say he has some minor back pains, so the pastor yells out a prayer, pushes the man with back pains backward, and other people catch him and lie him on the floor. The adrenaline from the room’s energy is enough to trick this poor man into thinking he’s been healed of his back pains. That’s why you’ll never see a woman in a wheelchair, or bald children with cancer brought up on stage: you can tell that the action of pushing someone over doesn’t heal them that way. It gets worse though, one pastor focused on throughout the feature has gone out of the church to perform magic tricks, claiming that they are acts of miraculous healing.
These disturbing secrets behind many American churches do not promote the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, but American religion, as Oprah says, “prosperity.” These false teachers want more fame, more recognition, more money, more followers, more, more, more, more. Thus, they tell non-Christians only things they want to hear, and never the thing that they need to hear: You’re a rotten sinner who’s going to Hell.
So, if you’re reading this and never accepted Jesus and the Holy Spirit into your heart, I’m sorry, but Hell is your destination. You don’t like hearing this, but that’s the whole idea of evangelizing that the Church is supposed to do, tell you things you’re not going to like hearing. The documentary also says that if a Muslim is not offended by a Christian sermon, then it is not preaching the Gospel. That doesn’t mean churches should go out in streets and hold up signs that say, “God Hates Sinners!” That’s another extreme that does not define the Lord’s character. Instead of focusing on the LAW (good deeds get you into Heaven), the core of human existence needs to be the GOSPEL (the good news that a relationship with God gives you a home in Heaven).
That means if you’re not a Christian, please watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. If you are a Christian (or at least are positive you are), watch it still. There could very well be many things this documentary criticizes about the American Church that YOUR church is every bit as guilty of. But the discouragement this presses on the brokenness of Church will also motivate you to change, so that your path of living will be not one of following a list of laws like the Jewish pharisees who crucified Christ, but of the unconditional love that Jesus lived.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!